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There’s been a lot of talk about toxic masculinity, and some men are understandably upset by the idea that men are to blame for all the bad things that happen in society.
But any human actions can be harmful, especially if the people acting that way seem unaware of and/or indifferent to the damage they’re causing.
The reason that the terms “toxicity” and “masculinity” have become associated in a way that’s not true with “femininity,” for example, is that there’s a stereotypical type of alpha male behaviour that can be poisonous, especially to women and children because of their relative vulnerability.
This kind of macho behaviour is part of the social conditioning that tells men they are entitled to what they want, that it is okay to use aggression to get it, and that it’s acceptable to feel strong by making someone else feel weak.
Other potentially toxic male behaviours include not feeling or displaying any emotion except anger, using violence or the threat of violence as a way to resolve conflict, objectifying other people (especially women) rather than seeing them as equal humans, demanding that women supply what a man needs, including sex, and believing that having power over other people is commendable and should be used for selfish gains.
But there’s no reason for masculinity to be expressed this way.
Research has demonstrated conclusively that, contrary to what many people think, testosterone is not the reason for aggressive behaviour. There are plenty of examples in the animal world to show there is no direct link between the two. However, testosterone does make a male animal more predisposed to be aggressive when they feel threatened and think it’s necessary for survival, and it does equip its owners with stronger muscles and greater body size, hence the current debate about whether transgender women who have relatively high T-levels should be allowed to compete against other women in sport.
This would seem to indicate that paradoxically, aggressive men are showing that they feel unsure of their masculinity and think they have something to prove. This is tragic because the macho mindset causes almost as much harm to the men who adopt it, as it does to the people they interact with.
A man who denies himself the full range of emotions and isn’t able to show vulnerability or connect in an intimate way with other people is likely to live a miserable, insecure, lonely, substance-abusing, meaningless life that may end in suicide.
Thankfully, an increasing number of men are refusing to conform to the alpha male norms and expectations and are realising that there’s no need to worry if they don’t fit into the mythical alpha male box and that they don’t need to try to compensate with any displays of macho excess.
That’s the lose-lose option. Because at heart, even men who act this way are probably decent guys, and when they can find the courage to be themselves and ignore the outdated stereotypes that tell them how they should be, everyone will be a lot happier, and a lot safer.